By Talia Sinkinson, Editor, Media Relations, Bulldog Reporter
Recently in TechCrunch, Internet mogul and Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker had this to say about the state of journalists today: “They’ve become link-baiting jackals who believe that ‘truth’ is whatever drives clicks.” While few took the snarky remark seriously, his criticism brings to light a very real issue PR professionals grapple with constantly in the digital age. The steady shift from print to online media has disrupted our most trusted media relations methods—and pitches must indeed prove their click-worthiness for any chance at coverage.
So what makes a story successful with the plugged-in press? Now, more than ever, reporters are ravenous for an original angle—their own tailored it-factor—and they want it ASAP.
When rumors began surfacing about Facebook’s initial public offering (IPO), tons of PR pros in tech, finance and entrepreneurship knew they had a hook to bring their brand to the press. Among them, Sarah Downey at online privacy start-up Abine saw the story as an ideal entryway to generate awareness about Abine’s online privacy solutions. But she also understood that this news in particular would move with a rapid flow of competing content—and that the media would seek information and analysis practically in real-time.
Ideally, as the impending IPO took shape, Abine’s pitch would evolve instantaneously to fit the ins and outs of the online conversation. It would give journalists ever-fresh insights on what the big sale meant to the industry and the site’s users—1.11 billion people whose privacy was at stake. Sounds impossible, right?
Not for cream-of-the-crop PR. Downey called on the media relations experts at RF|Binder, and together the team booted up, pulled out their pitch lists and leveraged the Internet tools already at their fingertips. In a two-month period and on less than 25 grand, they got Abine into newsfeeds over and over again. Read on to find out how RF|Binder helped the small tech start-up take a single piece of breaking news and offer over 100 outlets a unique angle—meanwhile using social media to establish Abine as a thought leader in the online privacy field.
The Challenge: Take the biggest breaking news story in tech and offer every journalist an edgy and click-worthy angle. Big news will always have a flat, easily played-out umbrella story, but building a unique angle for individual reporters is key to coverage. To top it off, if you can get reporters to engage with your service or product in a personal way, they’ll be to be more inclined to write about it—and write about it favorably.
Abine and RF|Binder saw two possibilities when it came to coverage of Facebook’s impending IPO: Either reporters would write about the big-picture significance of the sale (the biggest in Internet history) or they would explore its nuanced consequences—what the IPO meant for Facebookers, social media platforms and overall Internet use. The latter was less likely, but Abine had an insight that would encourage this more complex perspective: Facebook’s financial success required it to infringe upon users’ privacy by collecting more and more personal information and making it available to advertisers and other third parties.
Abine’s Sarah Downey explains, “We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to make a huge story—one that’s a little bit dry and numbers-based and may not resonate with the average person—personal? If you’re not a shareholder or you’re not in Silicon Valley, why would you care?’ And we realized that 85% of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising. Essentially, they’re monetizing the user, and not a lot of people are aware of that.”
If Abine could just show reporters what they (along with all their readers) were worth to Facebook and tie it into this huge piece of news, they would have a hit.
The Strategy: Use company insights and tech-savvy to make the media care—by turning numbers into news that resonates. RF|Binder got into the minds of journalists by first considering what the reporters’ first impulse would be when it came to telling the IPO story. Most likely, they would pick and choose the biggest and most basic figures—and thus every headline would look exactly the same. So much for driving clicks.
However, Abine had the tools to offer reporters different figures—and more telling data that would speak to the personal nature of the IPO.
The Val-You Calculator delivers a new discussion. Abine’s team of engineers developed an interactive microsite called the Val-You Calculator, which asked visitors seven basic questions about their Facebook activity and identified just how much they were worth to Facebook.
Here’s how it worked: After plugging in their personal numbers, site visitors saw their own dollar value—the approximate revenue Facebook was raking in by exploiting user data. To drive the point home, the dollar value was paired with an image of an everyday object of equal worth—for example, a pair of shoes or a coffeemaker.
Downey explains, “We took what were boring numbers—FCC filings, pre-IPO filings and background knowledge we had about ad-revenue models—to power the calculator, spit out a dollar value and compare it to something fun. We wanted to make a simple interface with simple questions that any Facebook user could relate to.”
The developers also built share buttons beside the number display because, Downey adds, “We knew that somewhat ironically, in order for this to take off, we had to let people share it easily on Facebook.”
Hashtag to follow the flow. Users were eager to spread their calculator-generated figures all over social media, and a #GoPrivate hashtag helped the PR team monitor the Twitter conversation. The PR team also orchestrated attention-grabbing flash mobs in target markets, and participants were encouraged to post photos on Instagram with the hashtag, as well.
Downey says, “The hashtag was a connector that let people find it—including us. We could search for that stream to see how engaged people were at the time.”
Supplement with a survey—and a sharable infographic. RF|Binder spearheaded pitching efforts and supplemented the Val-You Calculator’s bite-sized data with extra contextual material. Gerald Kimber White, RF|Binder senior managing director, says, “The Val-You Calculator would’ve been a one-trick pony if it was all we offered the media, so we also conducted a survey of Facebook users. What we found was a good data point: While everyone loves being connected to friends and family, they’re uncomfortable with the fact that their personal information is being used in ways that they don’t have a lot of control over.”
Armed with the survey insights, RF|Binder developed a press release and shared analysis of Facebook’s IPO filings with the media. They also boosted the release with an Abine-created infographic that looked at how Facebook’s approach to privacy had evolved over the years. The infographic used Facebook’s design style and included a “heat map color scheme” to show the default privacy settings eroding since Facebook’s inception.
When it came to media relations, the Val-You Calculator’s benefit was two-fold. White describes how the media used the tool: “Some used it in their direct coverage—describing how it worked and educating their audiences. But beyond that, we also had the media who were writing in very large numbers—for example, ‘The 100 million dollar IPO’—and the Calculator helped them to personalize the story.”
Don’t leave traditional media relations in the dust—update your media list with real-time coverage. White’s team supplemented an already robust media list with reporters who were particularly interested in IPOs and financial announcements. He explains, “We scoured the internet to find who was writing about the IPO in real time. We were constantly refreshing our media list and securing coverage based solely on that reactive response to people writing stories about the IPO.”
Abine managed to give the campaign a little more longevity by tweaking the calculator once Facebook went public. As the share price went up and down, microsite visitors—including reporters—could see their dollar value change.
The Results: RF|Binder and Abine pair the Val-You Calc with
media relations mastery to generate widespread national awareness—and over 100 media placements. White’s team secured top-tier coverage with the Wall Street Journal, Computerworld, FoxNews.com and the Huffington Post, as well as several feature stories in national outlets like Mashable, ZDNet, CNN, CNET and TechCrunch. More than 50 pieces of coverage mentioned Abine’s Facebook Val-You Calculator, and Abine’s spokespeople were quoted in nearly 40 stories about how privacy concerns would ultimately impact Facebook’s valuation.
Secrets for success: White offers media relations takeaway tips—and explains why the campaign won Gold in “Best Use of the Internet – Consumer” and “Best Campaign Under $25,000” at the 2013 Bulldog Media Relations Awards.
- Start early to build your street cred. “Things like this don’t emerge out of thin air: A lot of groundwork needs to be laid first before you attempt a campaign like this. Part of the reason we were successful was that we had built strong relationships with the media over time—such that they were interested in hearing what this relatively small online privacy company had to say about one of the biggest companies in the world. If we hadn’t already built a substantial amount of credibility in terms of the value we brought, data and insightful commentary and creative story ideas, we wouldn’t have seen the level success we did.”
- Provide the media multiple bites of the apple. “If we had only used the calculator or just the survey, it would’ve been a ‘won and done’ thing and we wouldn’t have had the sustained momentum that built on itself over time. We were able to talk to the media about two months before the IPO, all the way through it and afterward. We continued to present a brand new element or piece of information, so there was a reason for them to keep talking to us.”
- Know your risk tolerance. “By the time we were ready to wind down the campaign, we found that we had gotten under Facebook’s skin a little bit. Their ‘friends and family reporters’ started to show some animosity. We realized this story was about to turn and could go negatively for us. So we had to know when it was time to shut it down. In essence, know when to begin and know when to end.”
Headquartered in New York, RF|Binder is a full-service public relations agency with offices in Boston and bureaus in Chicago, Philadelphia, South Florida and Los Angeles. The agency launched in 2001 as an independent subsidiary of the Ruder Finn Group. Specialties include brand and corporate communications, media relations, marketing communications, digital and social media, capital markets communications, crisis management, corporate social responsibility, public affairs, thought leadership and expert positioning and event marketing.
Privacy is in the news every day, and Abine is often part of the story. The company’s spokespeople comment regularly to the press about privacy news, issues and tips, and they have appeared in more than 800 articles and videos. Based in Boston, Abine provides consumers with online privacy solutions that are innovative, easy to use, and work for everyday web users. With proven tools, Abine enables people to both benefit from the Web and retain control over their personal information. Millions of consumers use Abine’s products and services, which include the free tracker-blocking tool DoNotTrackMe and the premium data broker removal service DeleteMe. Abine is backed by premier venture capital firms Atlas Venture and General Catalyst Partners. Abine: The Online Privacy Company™. Online privacy starts at abine.com.